Martin Galvin (MG) interviews award-winning journalist Suzanne Breen (SB) via telephone from Belfast about the current crisis in the Stormont government. TPQ is grateful to its transcriber.
Radio Free Éireann
WBAI 99.5FM Pacifica Radio
New York City
5 September 2015
(begins time stamp ~ 40:50)
MG: We're now talking to Suzanne Breen, a noted journalist in The North of Ireland, who's been with The Irish Times, The Sunday Tribune and now writes for papers like The Belfast Telegraph and a number of other papers in The North of Ireland. Welcome, Suzanne.
MG: Suzanne, last week – events are moving very quickly in The North of Ireland – you were on last week with Sandy and I know at that stage you were talking about a meeting with the Ulster Unionist Party, headed by Mike Nesbitt, where they expected to vote to withdraw from the Executive in Stormont. Could you tell us what has happened since then?
SB: Well, that's right. The Ulster Unionists Executive met last Saturday night and they endorsed the decision by their leader, Mike Nesbitt, to pull out from the Executive. It was unanimously endorsed; there wasn't one voice, one word, of dissension. And then later in the week Danny Kennedy, the Ulster Unionist Minister in the Executive, pulled out, stood down, and he no longer sits in the Executive in Stormont. Mike Nesbitt's call surprised many people. He is not a hard line Unionist politician. He was regarded as basically a bit of a lightweight; someone who people thought was all sound bite and no substance. He is a former television presenter. He is not a member of the Orange Order. And the DUP really didn't think that Mike Nesbitt would have the nerve to make this decision and to pull out of government. It thought it was safe. But the decision has left the DUP very much exposed. It's the only Unionist party that is now in government with Sinn Féin and that isn't a position that it likes. It normally is on the right. It's a hard line party. It normally regards itself as the militant voice of Unionism and to have someone like Mike Nesbitt outflanking it, so to speak, and leaving it exposed is a very, very precarious position for the party.
MG: Alright now, Peter Robinson was on holiday – it seems he is on holiday quite a bit. I know like that's where he did the u-turn on Long Kesh a few years ago - from Florida. But what happened when he got back? (Peter Robinson being the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party – the party you just mentioned).
SB: Peter Robinson is the DUP leader and the First Minister of Northern Ireland. His party appeared, when he was away on holiday, to be flumping about quite a bit - not really to be on certain ground. But when he came back he said that the DUP was really just going to – it was looking for talks with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers, with the Prime Minister, David Cameron, and it was a time for cool heads. He didn't say that his party were going to be leaving the Executive – were going to collapse the Assembly - he seemed to be quite cool and he was very critical of Mike Nesbitt's decision. He said it was all an electoral stunt and the DUP has, so far, stood its ground.
MG: Well they've said – now, they're due to meet on Monday and Peter Robinson, or least members of his party - Arlene Foster and others – have said it will not be business as usual. Do you have any indication of they're planning to do this Monday?
SB: Well, everything on Monday hinges on a speech that the Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers, is due to make in the House of Commons. And it would be believed that if she doesn't move to suspend Stormont or to punish Sinn Féin that the DUP then will take action - that it with either withdraw from the Assembly, which would cause its collapse, or it would stop attending Executive meetings. Now, the DUP had proposed a Motion to Adjourn the Assembly which would mean that it would meet if it needed to be in emergency session but it wouldn't be normal business but that wasn't supported by other parties. What is also due to happen next week is the talks will start at Stormont. These will be chaired by Theresa Villiers. Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan will also attend and these talks will be to attempt to find a way out of the current political crisis in The North.
MG: Okay. Now we should remind our listeners – they heard you talk about it last week – the crisis was brought about in reaction – there was an individual, a very prominent Republican, Gerard “Jock” Davison, who was murdered. Some time later another individual, a former Irish Republican Army prisoner, Kevin McGuigan, was killed - it appeared to be in retaliation – and there was a statement made by a member of the British Constabulary, the PSNI, from Kevin Geddes, to indicate that members of the Irish Republican Army had been involved. Is that correct?
SB: That's correct. This was very outspoken by Kevin Geddes, who is the detective who is leading the investigation into both the murder of Jock Davison and the murder of Kevin McGuigan. And rarely has a senior PSNI officer spoke so brutally, so honestly, so frankly. And in some ways when he said that he believed that the Provisional IRA had been responsible for the murder of Kevin McGuigan, that it continued to exist, that structures continue to remain in place – that sent shock waves to a lot of people in The North because really the fiction had been that the Provisional IRA had gone away, and that it was in complete ceasefire, that it had decommissioned all its weapons, that it had left the stage and here was the detective on the ground leading two murder inquiries saying that that has not been the case.
Now what we have seen since have been more senior members of the PSNI, including the Chief Constable, attempting very much to put the cat back in the bag and to say: Yes, the IRA does continue to exist but it's not a threat to national security, it doesn't have Active Service Units anymore, it's not engaged in terrorism as it was known before – and in my opinion very much trying to give political cover to Sinn Féin and not to rock the peace process.
MG: Now Suzanne, this week you broke a major story about an event that is related to Florida that may further complicate this process and the pronouncements of the PSNI. Could you tell us about that?
SB: That's right. There is a former millionaire stock broker called Mike Logan and it had been exposed last year that Mike Logan came forward and talked about how he was a gun runner for the Provisional IRA for five years. He started gun running from Florida after the IRA ceasefire and his activities continued after the Good Friday Agreement. He said that he was working under the orders of Seán “Spike” Murray, a senior IRA figure in Belfast, and that he sent Spike Murray hundreds of handguns – he sent him ammunition – he sent him other more heavy military equipment and he was sending all this to the IRA and the IRA, the Provisional IRA, was arming at a time when it was meant to be engaged in the peace process. Now the story that I broke this week was that I revealed that Mike Logan has agreed to cooperate with a police inquiry into the Florida gun running and this investigation may lead to charges being brought against Spike Murray, who as well as being a senior Provisional IRA member is also a very senior member of Sinn Féin - he would be regularly in and out of its offices at Stormont and he was actually on the Sinn Féin delegation that met the PSNI Chief Constable to say the IRA didn't exist and to hold talks with the Chief Constable. So we have the position that this senior Provisional IRA man and member of Sinn Féin was meeting the Chief Constable, the head of the police, when police officers behind the scenes were talking to Mike Logan and asking him was he willing to testify against Spike Murray. I revealed in The Belfast Telegraph that a PSNI delegation actually travelled to Florida last month and held talks which lasted for three hours with Mike Logan in a Florida hotel.
And these weren't junior PSNI officers; they included Detective Chief Superintendent Tim Hanley, who is the head of Serious Crime in The North. Mike Logan initially refused to cooperate with the police. However, they remained in regular contact with him and a fortnight ago Mike Logan changed his mind and told the police he would help in the investigation and, if needed, he would give evidence against Spike Murray in court.
MG: Now, if there were to be charges brought against him can Mike Nesbitt, who had originally withdrawn saying there was no trust with the Provisional IRA - I believe that was the statement that he gave at the time that he recommended to his party that they withdraw from the Executive. What impact do you think that would have if charges were brought related to Mike Logan's testimony against Spike Murray?
SB: Well, if charges are brought against Spike Murray it really is going to strengthen the hand of those Unionists who are saying that really, Sinn Féin hadn't changed at all. That at a time when the party was talking peace the IRA was continuing to arm itself. This is a big issue for Unionists because it is known guns that Mike Logan sent to Ireland were actually used in the murder of two police officers in Lurgan. It is also believed that they have been used in the murder of Catholic/Nationalist individuals. They may have been used in the murder of Kevin McGuigan, the father of nine, a former Republican prisoner, in the Short Strand. They were used in the murder of Joe O'Connor, a dissident Republican leader in West Belfast. They may also have been used in the attempted murder of Martin McGartland, who was a police agent, in his attempted murder in England. So really it would re-open the whole story if Spike Murray were to be charged and Mike Logan were to be part of that prosecution. It would be a very, very high profile case and it would re-open all the old wounds.
MG: Alright. So this weekend you said there will be a speech by Theresa Villiers. When will that occur?
SB: That's right. Theresa Villiers is due to make a speech to the House of Commons on Monday. One of the ideas being suggested that is in the mix is that the British government will start again and IMC-type ceasefire watchdog, now that was called the Independent Monitoring Commission and it reported on the state of paramilitary activity in The North of Ireland – both Loyalist and Republican paramilitary. That body was wound up in 2011 because it was believed that there was actually no need for it and there is talk that that might be one of the things the DUP asks the Secretary of State and the British government to do - would be to start a body like that again and that in some ways would be a sop to the DUP and enable it to continue to be involved in the political process.
MG: But hasn't the former head of the IMC, Alderdice, hasn't he said it would be inappropriate to bring that back at this time?
SB: That's right. Dr. John Alderdice has said that really the problems now are more complicated than that and there of course is no agreement between the DUP and Sinn Féin over welfare reform - this is the reform to the welfare system in The North - and he has said that he doesn't think it's appropriate for that type of body to be brought back. But from talking to DUP politicians they still remain committed the idea. I mean, in many ways, what we're talking about it's as if the DUP can have something that has said: Look - the A,B,C and D is being done – even if in reality it is all a bit of a charade. I mean most people in Nationalist and Unionists communities, not just politicians, know that the IRA continues to exist, that it continues to be a threat to individuals if challenged, that structures remain in place and they don't really need the IMC or any type body to tell them that that is the case but the DUP very much needs to be seen doing something.
MG: Alright, Suzanne, so this week we have to look forward to Theresa Villiers' speech, what the DUP says it will do – if business will not be as usual, about what the talks are and again, it's all very much in flux as we continue to have a crisis in The North of Ireland to deal with Stormont. Thank you very much for being with us, Suzanne, and thanks for breaking those great stories.
SB: Thank you.
(ends time stamp ~ 55:30)